Fogbound at Dunbar

I’ve not been out much over the summer, with a trip up to St. Andrews and a couple of excursions from Dunbar.

Haar

No-one likes it, but haar is a fact of life for anyone boating on the east coast. It wasn’t too bad though, and you could still make out a horizon when headed out just after six in the morning. Two miles out, and a dozen mackerel later, and visibility disappeared.

Thick fog cuts visibility to a few tens of metres a few miles off Dunbar.
Keeping a good lookout

Maybe 30-50 metres at best, and as thick as I’ve seen it. Not good, so I edged my way down to an inshore mark and stuck it out for the rest of the morning.

Pollack

There were a few fish going about, and I’d cod, ling and pollack to supplement my mackerel. However, the tide was small and drift non-existent, so it was hard going.

Thick fog cuts visibility to a few tens of metres a few miles off Dunbar.
Thick Fog!

Hearing other boats moving around, and the thump of lobster creels hitting the decks close by, meant that it was a fairly nervous session. Fortunately only one boat emerged out the haar and she was going slowly so we avoided each other without any drama.

Dinner

I wasn’t really sorry to head back in – although the sun was now rapidly clearing away the haar and the horizon was visible again by the time I arrived back at the harbour.

Fishless Wrecks

Every now and again I let heart rule head, and set up for a day trying the many wrecks that litter the seabed of the Firth of Forth. Other than one or two piles of scrap close inshore I’ve never had a successful trip doing this, although it’s always a buzz to see a wreck materialise on the sonar.

It was a fine morning as I drove along to Dunbar, with little wind and small tides forecast, so it was as good a set of conditions as I’m ever likely to get. No sign of haar, unlike my earlier trip.

Lovely early morning light as I drive along to Dunbar in the first few days of September.
Dawn light

Edging out of the harbour just as the sun rose, I encountered a reasonable NE swell, which would add to the fun of fishing a snaggy wreck but otherwise wasn’t an issue.

The remains of the old castle on the cliff guard the narrow entrance to Dunbar harbour
Harbour mouth
The sun is just appearing above the horizon as I pass the Yett rocks which line the approach to Dunbar harbour
Sunrise

I spent the next few hours working round in a large semi-circle about 7-10 miles out. A variety of WW1 and WW2 merchant ships and a U-boat all duly appeared on the sounder, in depths of 130-210 feet. A few drifts on each with bait and lures – and leaving some gear behind on most of them. Total catch zero, except on my reliable inshore friend which threw up a couple of pollack

Small pollack

I did get a partial success, but on an offshore reef rather than a wreck. It’s been a few years since I was last here, but there were plenty mackerel for the bait freezer and a little codling. Species of the day was this little Redfish (or Norway Haddock, I’m never 100% sure), which seem to inhabit this particular mark. Certainly, it’s the only place near here that I’ve encountered them.

A redfish, or Norway Haddock, taken from a reef a few miles NE of Dunbar
Redfish

So, a top up for winter bait and a bonus species, but otherwise a fairly predictable disappointment. Enough to cure me of wreck fishing for a season or two, probably.

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Kicking off at Dunbar

A fine morning towing my boat along a very queit A1 with a few early mist patches
Fine early morning

Last Sunday saw me arriving at Dunbar for the back of six in the morning, heading out of the harbour for the first time in many months. It was a lovely morning, despite a steady 3-4 foot swell rolling in from the NE. There was no wind at all, so I’d actually a very gentle ride, and it dropped away steadily until it was more like 2 feet by late morning.

Early May, fishing out of Dunbar on a windless, sunny morning
Gentle swell from the NE

I spent most of my time fishing an inshore wreck a few miles down the coast. She coughed up a steady stream of codling with a few other bits and pieces on a series of slow, easy drifts. I took most fish on a mackerel belly strip and 2oz bullet dropped to the bottom and slow retrieved, but a fair number hung themselves on hokkais too.

A small but well conditioned codling from Dunbar
Small codling
A bait sized coalfish from Dunbar - just a nice snack for a skate
Skate sized coalie

My catch were all small, 1-2lb fish, with the biggest not much over 2.5lbs. This was a little disappointing as I can often pick up the odd 5-7lb fish early in the season, albeit generally looking like they lost a boxing match.

A rather battered looking early season pollack taken from Dunbar
Battered pollack


I managed just three pollack, with the best somewhere around 5-5.5lbs – a fat, mean fish which had a nasty hole in its shoulder and various other scars. However, it still managed to give a very good account of itself and was returned to get even fatter and meaner. Also rans included a couple of tiddler ling and ditto for coalfish. I had a final 45 minute drift inshore which added some more codling but nothing else. So, my final tally was 19 codling, 3 pollack, 2 ling and 2 coalies for about 4.5 hours fishing. Not exactly setting the heather on fire , but a respectable showing.

A small ling from Dunbar
Bug eyed ling


I have to say that Dunbar grows ever harder to deal with as a launch site. At six in the morning I got the last available parking space within 300 yards of the slip! The rowing club now have the equivalent of two car and trailer spaces, the burger van another, and miscellaneous parked boats all the rest.

The newly “improved” slipway is more than a little daunting too, as it’s now lined with huge boulders at the upper end, on both sides. I suppose the effect is more psychological than real as the boulders are perched on top of rocky outcrops anyway, but the diggers have managed to cover the only soft area with sharp shards of rock so it’s a far from healthy environment to park a boat on whilst to try and find somewhere to park a car.

An easy day fishing out of Dunbar in calm conditions
Easy fishing
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November Codling

A little café culture on a warm November day in St Andrews, preceded by a few hours coddie bashing afloat.

Catching up on a few recent sessions…

Mid-November saw Ian and I slipping out of St Andrews harbour in search of some codling. Just as we set out, we were treated to a fine, if cold, sunrise over a placid North Sea.

The sun rises over a placid North Sea as we leave St Andrews harbour in mid-November
Sunrise

It was a small tide, and we’d to work for our fish today. There were some lengthy slow spells, but with some hectic spells in between. Irrespective of size, the fish were in fine early winter condition and good looking specimens. We kept a few for the fish box, but most went back to get a bit bigger!

Some fine early winter codling destined for the table
Some fine codling

This was a short morning session, with only a few hours to fish. However, back ashore we treated ourselves to a bacon roll and chips at the harbour café. It’s not often you can sit out in warm sunshine on the Scottish east coast in November. I’m not complaining though 🙂

Bacon roll and chips in warm November sunshine, an excellent way to end a morning's fishing
A civilised end to the morning
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Shooting the Breeze at St Andrews

Late August saw Ian, Trevor and I bouncing around on Ian’s Raider a few miles along the coast from St Andrews. Aside from a few codling it proved a rather rollercoaster style experience so we snuck back inshore, under the shelter of the low cliffs along this part of the coastline. Once tucked in out of the worst of the wind I dropped a grapnel down into the rocky, kelp covered, seabed little more than twenty feet below us.

Ian and Trevor fishing for codling from Ian Raider boat on an overcast and windy day at St Andrews.
A grey day off St Andrews

In these conditions fish tend to come fairly quickly, or not at all, as the boat sweeps from side to side, pendulum fashion, at the end of the anchor rope. Fortunately the fish were hungry, so when Ian and I pinched a few of Trevor’s rag we were soon knocking out ballans in various sizes and colours on spinning gear. These were my first wrasse of the year and really quite good fun to catch, with some bright red codling mixed in with them.

A small kelpy coloured ballan wrasse for me from St Andrews.
A small ballan wrasse for me.

Trevor and Ian were catching pollack on lures, whilst I just took a lazy approach and suspended a mackerel belly strip on a flowing trace a few feet above the kelp. If conditions were calm I’d be able to see it clearly, maybe fifteen to twenty feet below the boat. As it was, the fairly rapid pendulum action gave a pretty decent action to the mackerel strip whilst the choppy sea seemed to reduce what little inhibition the pollack had.

A pollack for Trevor, caught on a lure close to shore at St Andrews
A pollack for Trevor

Maybe not quite top drawer fishing, but we’d a reasonable pile of pollack (most sub-4lb, but a few better ones too) and more wrasse than I’ve seen in years. A fair number of codling, and the usual mackerel and coalies. I think Trevor picked up a small ling too, which he does pretty consistently.Share this:
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Around and About on the East Coast

I’ve not been posting that much recently, so this is a quick catch up of a few trips on the east coast over the last couple of months.

Tayport

This is going back to June, but worth a mention as it’s the first time I’ve fished here. Easy short(ish) range fishing for flounder and dabs in our case, to a mix of worm, crab and fish. A laid back way to spend an afternoon!Both these specimens (and the photos) were taken by Ian. We were using rather overkill gear for here, and spinning or carp rods with an ounce or two of lead would be a better idea.

St Andrews

Late June saw me aboard Ian’s Raider for the first time this year, and heading out of St Andrews in search of a few fish suppers.

Ian fishing a baited rig for codling off St Andrews
Ian fishing off St Andrews

One of the minor hazards of sea fishing are the gulls, but they seemed unusually persistent today, and quite determined to get themselves some mackerel. At one stage we were surrounded by 7 or 8 black backs closing in for the kill, and they weren’t easily put off either.

A persistent black backed gull demands feeding, perched on the bow of Ian's Raider 18
Persistent seagull

I didn’t take any pictures of the fish for some reason, but suffice it to say that the freezer got a healthy boost with a selection of decent fillets.

Dunbar

I don’t really fish Dunbar that much these days, as it gets awful crowded during the summer. However it’s still nice to launch early in the day before it gets overrun and you can find a place to park. That’s what I did last week, and I’d a fine few hours drifting for codling, ling and mackerel. All pretty small, with the biggest fish a pollack of 4.5lbs, but there in reasonable numbers.

A short spined sea scorpian from Dunbar. They look mean but are completely harmless
SSSS! (Short Spined Sea Scorpian)

I ended the morning with about 30+ ling and codling, a couple of pollack and a useful contribution towards the winter bait supplies – about 45 mackerel. Also my first scorpion fish for a year or two, perhaps because of the small tides and fairly slow drift.

St Andrews – again

Gulls were the pest last time out of St Andrews, but the plague was a little more exotic today. Ian warned that he’d been pestered by hoverflies the night before, but I didn’t really believe him. OK, they look like wasps but that’s as far as it goes. They don’t bite and they don’t sting…

A mile offshore from St Andrews and we were plagued by hundreds of hoverflies, presumably chased off the fields by harvesting.
A plague of hoverflies

… but they can crawl all over you, up your nose and into your mouth. Ye gods!, I’d never have thought they could be such a pain. Presumably we were the only safe haven for them a mile out to sea, and they made full use of us.

The bugs thinned out a bit as the breeze picked up, but they definitely outnumbered the fish. We did get a load of codling but mainly small stuff.

Nicely coloured inshore codling - these fish take on the colour of the kelp beds and range from orange to deep red in colour
Nicely coloured inshore codling

However there were a few pollack about in the 5-5.5lb bracket, and Ian managed a couple of dogfish too. These have a novelty value on the east coast as we don’t often catch them on this side. They add even more shine to Ian’s “dogfish magnet” reputation too!

This little codling also demonstrated his appetite quite nicely. Note the mackerel tail sticking out his gob – he’s swallowed a whole mackerel frame, including head, that we’d chucked over on a previous drift.

This fish swallowed a whole mackerel frame, discarded after being filleted. The tail of the mackerel is still sticking out the codling's mouth, and it was still ready to eat more.
A greedy fish, feeding off discarded mackerel frames

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Hauling Haddock

It was a little after 8 in the morning when Ian and I trundled into the harbour. Rather unusually for NE Scotland the sun was shining and the wind minimal, although there was a slight but definite swell rolling in. We could see Trev and his Icelander 18 just offshore, launched a little earlier to beat the ebb tide. A quick phone call and we completed a rather hairy pickup from the bottom of a harbour ladder and headed out to sea.

Trev Icelander 18 has a cosy cabin - perfect for winter fishing
A cosy cabin – perfect for winter fishing

I haven’t fished these grounds for a very long time and instead of the normal coddie bashing, we were after it’s tastier cousin, the haddock (IMHO, of course!). I haven’t had these in decent numbers for ages so it was music to my ears when Trev mentioned he was getting haddock nearby.

The marks are fairly loosely defined here, and we drifted over a mix of gritty sand and shell with only the odd snag. Not too far offshore, but in roughly 150 feet of water. After a slowish start we began to pick up fish in reasonable numbers – small codling, haddock and dabs.

A typical smallish haddock for the day, caught by Trevor
Trev and a haddock

Fine day, not quite so fine anglers
An angler selfie…

We’d a bonus or two along the way – Ian pulled in the only mackerel of the day and a wee scorpian fish, whilst I was very happy to see a small plaice on the end of my line. None of the haddock were big although most made it above the size limit, unfortunately for them!

The one and only plaice of the day, and my first of the year
Small plaice (although the more I look at it the more I think “hybrid”?)

As the tide slackened off so did the fishing, so we headed a few miles down the coast to give a local wreck and some reefy ground a try.

Trev's Icelander 18 can show a good turn of speed on a calm sea
Powering across the sea

Fishing here was slow but we managed a couple of decent codling mixed in with the small stuff. The best made about 5lb 12oz, although it looked a bit of a bruiser with its battered tail. Loads of tiny ling, as Trev demonstrated with a double at one point.

A rather beaten up codling from a small inshore wreck
Fish of the day

A lingfest! We had a lot of small ling during the day
A plague of ling!

A shift back to our original marks as the tide ebbed had us hitting plenty more dab and haddock. I managed a haddock threesome and Ian brought three dab aboard to cement his reputation as the flattie king of the day.

Haddock three at a time
Haddock threesome (pic courtesy of Trev)

Ian catches dabs three at a time
Dab-meister in action

We didn’t leave it too late to head in to harbour, as Trev had to retrieve the Icelander and Ian and I had a fair journey to get home.

Retrieving Trev's Icelander 18 at the end of the day
Retrieving at the end of the day

Species for the day – cod, ling, haddock, scorpian fish, plaice, dab and mackerel – not bad for the east coast. We didn’t make it to 100 haddock for the day but were getting within striking distance of that number. Loads of dabs too, and a decent sprinkling of small codling and ling.Share this:
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Early Days at Dunbar

Ian’s had a fish or three up the coast at St Andrews over the past few weeks, but he’s had to work hard for them. For my part I resisted what little temptation there was to pop my boat into the North Sea until yesterday. However, sun, no wind and a day off coincided and I found myself joining the Edinburgh bypass around 7, before the traffic gets too silly. Destination Dunbar, for the first time in many months.

Out of the harbour and heading east, I hit a steady swell from the NE as I ploughed on down towards the wreck I planned to fish. I saw a few potters working their creels, but no sign of any other angler out in the sunshine.

Beautiful calm sea and looking towards the Bass Rock from a spot a few miles east of Dunbar
A hard day to be afloat!

Being a lazy sod I stuck with the wreck all morning, mainly because experience suggests that it is the best place to find early season fish, before their numbers explode at the end of May. I kicked off with baited hokkais which chipped away at some smallish codling and an even smaller ling. Down in the depths of the ironwork I go hit by a much chunkier fish, which had me thinking about a decent codling until a silvery coloured Pollack appeared at the surface. It went over 5lbs but you wouldn’t have guessed that from the lacklustre fight it put up.

A pollack and a codling caught early season from a wreck a few miles from Dunbar
Pollack and a codling

Unhooking a small pollack just before returning it to grow a bit plumper
Unhooking a small pollack

Switching over to my spinning rod and leadhead I continued to pick away at both Pollack and small codling. Eventually I upped my Pollack total to six, all of which looked a bit manky, presumably post-spawning. Size-wise the biggest was 6lb 4oz, and it was the only one that put up a proper fight. Sadly, it had completely engulfed my lure and was so deep hooked that it ended up in the fish box.

With my rod hooped over as he dives, this pollack makes it clear it doesn't want to come aboard my boat
Fish on!

Using the net to bring a decent inshore pollack aboard my boat
Netting a decent pollack

This is a nice but thin pollack from Dunbar and looking decidedly weatherbeaten after spawning
Pollack of the day

I headed inshore for a final drift off the lighthouse as I filleted the fish I’d kept. Just one more little codling took a jellyworm I’d left fishing as I wielded the knife. Incidentally, the Pollack I’d kept had no fish in its stomach, only 4 or 5 crabs, which suggests there aren’t that many baitfish around yet. All the Pollack were well underweight for their length, about 10% or so, and pretty battered looking.

A view of Dunbar harbour entrance from the seaward side
Returning to Dunbar

Leading my boat the last few yards to the slipway at Dunbar harbour
Back at the slipway

Total of 12 codling (most undersize), 6 Pollack and a little ling. Quite happy with that as a result for about 4-5 hours fishing, and I expect things at Dunbar should pick up quite quickly now. Famous last words…Share this:
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East Coast Round-up

I’ve been very remiss in reporting this year’s events on the Scottish east coast boat fishing scene. Maybe there’s not been much to write about, but I have fallen way behind. A mid-November trip out of St Andrews may be my last trip afloat on the east coast this year (hopefully not!) so kind of forces me to write up or shut up as far as the fishing afloat is concerned.

Ian's Raider berthed at St Andrews
Berthed at St Andrews

It’s not a great year to be honest – modest catches of this and that, but little outstanding or memorable. Pollack, cod, ling and mackerel, with the odd coalie and wrasse thrown in.

A nice, dark coloured, ballan wrasse for Ian, caught off St Andrews
Nice ballan wrasse for Ian, caught earlier this year

However, last Wednesday saw me heading out of St. Andrews on Ian’s Raider on a fine, calm morning. Our target was codling, aiming to repeat Ian’s success of a few days earlier in what had been far worse conditions. Apart from a few dog walkers and joggers the harbour was deserted as we headed down alongside the historic old pier and then accelerated down the coast in the direction of Fife Ness. November is traditionally a shore fishers, rather than a boat fishers, month and we had no competition out on the water.

A very calm North Sea, not quite what you expect in November
Not bad for November!

Miles along the coast, and several drifts later, we were contemplating digging out the beachcasters ourselves. Nothing doing. However, experience had long taught us that fish switch on and off the feed, and that patience can really pay off. A couple of hours and a few ling and pollack later, the codling finally decided to start showing themselves.

A small ling from St. Andrews
Small ling

Nothing like the 100+ fish we’ve had in the past, but a steady catch rate of codling cheered up the day.

Ian with a fairly typical St Andrews codling
Typical codling

Ian even tried his flying d*ldo rig, a ridiculously large fluorescent yellow shad more suited to Norwegian halibut, and managed a greedy little codling in exchange.

Ian aims high with his eye-catching latex lure
Ian aims high with his eye-catching latex

A very greedy little codling tackles Ian's hi-viz latex monster lure
A very greedy codling

I’m guessing the final total was 30-40 codling and maybe 12-15 or so assorted pollack, coalies, ling and a whiting (a comparatively rare fish in these parts). Best fish was a pollack that Ian landed, 5lb 4oz or thereabouts.

Little and large - a pollack and a whiting from St Andrews
Little and large – a pollack and a whiting

My equally late West Coast update still to follow…Share this:
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A Wee Playabout off Dunbar

Sunday looked to be a nice day so the target was to be Dunbar pollack, codling and ling again. Boat and gear were sorted and I set the alarm to give me a fighting chance of hitting the slip before boats started to stack up. As a result a rather bleary-eyed angler edged his boat out of the harbour and parked just outside the Yetts to try for a few mackerel. Fishing whilst struggling out of bulky neoprene waders isn’t really a sensible idea, but I did pick up 5 small/tiny mackerel as I did so.

Drifting along further whilst I sorted out other gear and a caffeine hit saw a few more mackerel, with some better sized ones hiding below the tiny ones nearer the surface. Having sorted out the bait it was time to cruise down towards Barns Ness for a longish drift or five.

The sun shines on my new boat as we cruise along near Siccar Point, about 10 miles from Dunbar
Near Siccar Point, about 10 miles from Dunbar

The breeze was a little strong for the River Garry wreck, but the drift speed was generally OK and a bit less than I thought it might be, given the lightness of the Longliner. Somewhere in the 1.2-1.5 mph range, which is fine for fishing with.

Codling were rather thin on the ground and mainly on the small side, but I’d two or three before my spinning rod dramatically keeled over as it got hit by a pollack (the video captures that quite nicely). The next couple of hours were much the same, with only a scattering of fish showing.

Pollack take no prisoners when they engulf a bait and my spinning rod bends double in the rod holder
Pollack take no prisoners when they engulf a bait

A pollack gleams in the morning sunshine as it is returned to the sea
Sleek looking Pollack from Dunbar

Eventually I decided to head a few miles eastward to try some ground that is occasionally kind to me. I didn’t have great expectations, but it was a good excuse to get another hour on the outboard and edge a little closer to completing its break-in period.

Fresh from the sea - a small codling comes aboard my Longliner2
Fresh from the sea – a small codling

Weaving in between the pot markers on this mark I set up a few drifts but had little in return bar a couple of pollack and some decent sized mackerel. A little disappointing but I wasn’t too bothered given it was a nice sunny day and there wasn’t much doing elsewhere anyway.

Slipping a Pollack back to the sea
Slipping a Pollack back to the sea

I took my time heading back, doing my best to heed Yamaha’s run-in advice, and stopped off at a couple more marks to add one or two more codling.

So 4 hard-fighting (rather than big!) pollack, and 12 or so codling, plus a fair number of mackerel to add to winter bait supplies. I’ve had far better catches but the sunshine certainly helped take the edge off the day.

And a video of the day…

Summer Boatfishing off Dunbar
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First Dunbar trip in ages

It’s been something like 10 or 11 months since I last ventured out on the east coast from my own boat. Consequently I was feeling well out of practice as I edged my way down to the harbour for my first Dunbar trip in ages early last Sunday morning.

Looking towards St Abbs
Looking towards St Abbs

As on her maiden trip to Etive, the Longliner proved a doddle to launch and I soon edged out the harbour and parked myself out past the Yetts whilst I got the gear sorted out. A set of mylars attracted 5 or 6 mackerel for bait as we drifted very slowly along and once suitably tackled up it was time to head down to the wreck and try for something a little larger.

This took a little longer than usual as the outboard is still getting run in, but mackerel baited muppets hit the seabed around half-seven. It was an easy drift, especially as the wind died right back, but more or less one fish each time rather than any great numbers.

Nice 5lb + codling from Dunbar, showing a few battle scars on its nose and tail where something (probably a seal) has had a go at it.
Nice 5lb + codling

Eventually the inevitable in wrecking happened and I found myself attached very firmly to a large lump of rusting metal. As usual, my frantic tugging and jigging had no effect at all and I was resigned to losing gear when the wreck pulled back – and hard! This was clearly a decent fish as it broke loose of the seabed and fought hard as it realised it’s predicament. My Shimano wasn’t exactly smoking, but it was conceding respectable amounts of line until my opponent gradually tired and a very nice looking ling appeared. The scales bounced round to 12 lbs 2 oz, which put it in my top 5 ling. It was popped back, hopefully to grow nearer the 20lb mark…

A fine 12lb ling from Dunbar, off an inshore wreck
12lb ling from Dunbar

Fishing fell away a bit as the ebb started so I decided to try inshore for a bit and see if there were any more codling about. Between Barns Ness and Torness the balance shifted more to pollack, albeit nothing more than 2-2.5lbs plus a couple of codling of similar stamp, but it was relatively slow going. However I took the opportunity to fillet the catch and save some effort once I got back home.

A small inshore pollack from Dunbar
Small inshore pollack

By midday it was time to call it quits as the tide dropped, so I headed back west towards the slipway, avoiding a large bunch of paddleboarders near the harbour entrance – Dunbar seems to get more cluttered every year!

Final tally – 7 each of cod, ling and Pollack, a solitary coalie and a smattering of mackerel. Very pleased with the ling but otherwise a nice, middle of the road sort of morning – and the rain held off until I got home.Share this:
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